Wednesday, February 29, 2012

March is for Slice of Life!

FYI - Beginning tomorrow, March 1st,  I am beginning the Slice of Life Story Challenge.

I am going to attempt to record little slices of my life with preschoolers every day for the month of March. I will post them on this blog.

I'm not entirely sure why!

But I did want to give my readers a "heads up" that I am doing this, so that you won't be looking for my more traditional blog posts.  I'm not sure that I will have time for the more traditional ones.  We'll see.

I'll be including the acronym "SOLSC" on my blog title, if the post is for the Slice of Life Story Challenge.

And you will see the following graphic at the top of the post:

This way, you can decide to skip it, if you want.
(If you do read my "Slices of Life," please know, I welcome your comments and feedback!)

I'll be honest, there are a lot of protest voices in my head:
  • You don't really teach writing, Maureen!  C'mon, they are only preschoolers!
  • Goodness, you don't blog every day!  You are going to attempt to write every day for the month of March? Ha!  You are a "once a week-er"! What will you possibly find to share?
  • Writer? You? Ha! Do you really consider yourself a writer? Who are you kidding?
  • What exactly is the point?  Why bother?

I'm going to ignore those negative voices and concentrate, instead, on the many positive reasons for participating:

  • It is important to jump without a net every now and again.  I think it is particularly important for teachers.  It is good to experience the discomfort of learning, of trying, of putting oneself out there.  I want my students to take risks, to fall on their faces and pick themselves up and continue on boldly.  Why not try it myself?  Perhaps it will make me more sensitive to student struggles.
  • I would like to improve my writing habits.  I write daily in a journal, in long-hand, in a private notebook.  Anything goes when you write like that!  How will my writing be affected if I actually posted it daily, for others to see, in this blog?  I'd like to see!  
  • I already know that this is a great community of teachers, having enjoyed Two Writing Teachers for the past many months.  Wouldn't it be a blast to dialogue with other writers and teachers, to see how they are cultivating the joy of writing in their students? What dynamic conversation awaits!
  • Last but not least - what will 31 days of thoughts about teaching preschoolers reveal? This could be eye-opening!

So, here goes!


Thursday, February 16, 2012

How to write a group story?

I tried something quite new recently - writing a class story.

Our elementary school is focusing on the seven continents for an upcoming "Learning Showcase" evening event for our families. With this as our "umbrella," I suggested that preschoolers would explore international folktales, at least one from each continent.

Well, it didn't take me too long to realize that there were no authors to write folktales in Antarctica! We would have to write our own.

For me, this was fun new territory - to try to get my class of twenty-two three and four year olds to come together as one and write a single story. Was it even feasible? Well, we'd have fun trying!

My friend Marla McLean writes in a recent blog:

"A big part of my work is teaching others how to break down what they see, feel, think, or hear into pieces, deconstructing what seems insurmountable."  

This, really, is the work of all teachers - deciphering the larger 'intention' or 'learning outcome' and then preparing the path for children to attain this.  A preschool class is not going to simply write a story from start to finish.  With this “end goal” in mind - to create an Antarctica folktale - I decided to break the task into several large group discussions, with lots of reminding, nudging, repeating, and emphasizing throughout the day and along the way:

1) Where and what is Antarctica? One visit to the local library and I had lots of great books to share with the children...but the real learning came when I took them on an imaginary expedition to Antartica, dramatically re-enacting our every movement. We pretended to fly in a plane with skis, landing on the snow and ice, with tents, snow clothes, and lots of food for our expedition. We pretended to walk around and discover. We acted like penguins and seals. We realized there were no polar bears.   The children were so delighted with this completely imaginary adventure that they told their parents they went on a trip that day!

2) What is a folktale? What are characters? Who might be the characters in our story? I reminded them of our favorite stories and we deciphered together - Who are the characters in the Three Little Pigs? Who are the characters in Abiyoyo? Who are the characters in Alistair in Outer Space? Then, if we wrote our own story about Antartica, who might be characters? Class answers: Penguins, Polar Bears, White Dolphin. This led to a sideline discussion - What actually lives in Antarctica? The final consensus - penguins, seals, and us! Yes! The children were hooked!

3) What kinds of things might happen in Antarctica? What is the problem in our story? This was an animated discussion, a true brainstorming activity, with children calling out ideas and me recording each and every one of them, without comment. I find when all ideas are welcomed, everyone participates. After the brainstorming, we read through the list and eliminated those which involved different characters or locations than we had decided earlier. I think this was a great lesson in "editing." Finally, we decided our favorite problem was "a magic penguin was trapped in the water and ice, with a seal approaching him."

4) Should our story have a scary ending or a good ending? Having read through the ideas from our previous discussion, it was clear to me that we had two "camps" in the classroom, those who believed the story would end badly and those who needed it to be happy. For this, we voted with our bodies - moving to different sides of the room, one side for scary and the other for happy. The vote was clear - most of us wanted a happy ending!

5) What do you imagine solves our problem in a good way? We had earlier decided that "a magic penguin was trapped in the water and ice, with a seal approaching him." How to solve this is a happy way, using only penguins, seals, and us in the solution? This was another free-wheeling discussion, with lots of suggestions for good things that might happen. Let's get to the drawing board! I sent children to the tables to draw happy solutions using newly sharpened colored pencils (always fun to use new supplies!) As the children drew, we teachers walked around and spoke with each child individually, writing down their ideas on index cards, and keeping them on track "Remember - there is no Green Lantern in our story; what are the magic penguin, seal, and all of us doing?" Yes, this was a lengthy process...but so very, very rich. When I reviewed all the index cards - all the individual thoughts - I found that we had the semblance of a folktale. I put them in a logical sequence, and readied them for our next discussion.

6) Let’s read our story. What needs to change? As I read the story aloud, I showed the color pictures they had drawn to support their ideas. So many great details!! The children were fascinated by all the ideas. Together, they called out additional suggestions and "fixes" - truly, these children were staying focused and were proving to be great editors, too!

The children wrote the most imaginative story about Antarctica...a story where scary might happen but good prevails, a story filled with magic and friendship. I have shared a few delightful pages, but I can't share more - we need to find a publisher! ;-)

Writing takes time.  Writing takes patience.  Writing is wonderful fun as a group activity!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Still wondering about discipline


You will do this because I said so.
I am the adult.  You will NOT do that to an adult.
You will sit here until I tell you to move.
Why are you doing such bad stuff?

I wonder what the child heard?
I wonder what the child felt?

I wonder if we hear ourselves talking like this?

I wonder if there is a way to remind ourselves about the need for reflection?

I wonder how often parents and educators take time to revisit these moments, and consider more

I wonder what could be said that would help
build a child
to shine a light on the path he/she should go?

I wonder how many of us think about the way we speak to children?

I wonder what would happen if we spoke to children the same way we spoke to our best friend?

I wonder if children already and always know we are in charge?
Don't we tower over them?
Aren't they dependent on us for everything?

I wonder why we respond in a controlling, angry, reactive way?
Especially to behaviors that are developmentally in the norm?

I wonder what would happen,
when a preschooler

shouts at us
sticks a tongue out at us
refuses us
hits us
kicks us

if we held the thought..
just for a moment...

"this is developmentally in the norm"


I wonder what would happen if we whispered a response to their angry voices, daring to model a calmer presence


I wonder what would happen if we calmly repeated the larger message - "We do not hit.  We are safe here" or
scripted some better behaviors for them, such as,
"put your hands on your hips," "take a deep breath"


I wonder what would happen if we simply held the angry child, to keep him/her from hurting others, and retained our calm voice - "I see you are very upset.  I'll hold you until you are calm.  We'll talk then."


Or - if we are seething, unable to be calm,

I wonder what would happen if we simply told the child that
we need to take a break 
and then walked away, for a moment,
daring to model more appropriate ways to deal with frustration and anger?

I wonder if it is easier only in the short run
to bark at the child
and insist that we are in control?

I wonder why we call this discipline?
I wonder what we are teaching?

I wonder what would happen if we dared to apologize to the child for our angry voice?
I wonder what would happen if we asked for a "do over"?

I wonder if there's always going to be tension between
doing what is best for the child
and getting our own adult goals accomplished?

I wonder how to make peace with the tension...and reflect?

I wonder what would happen if parents and educators continually reflected on their discipline techniques and approaches?

I wonder if our children deserve no less?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Is there room for the unplanned in your schedule?

It was time for centers.  There were six special activities identified on our sign in board.
One boy had something else in mind.
And an empty round table to work on.
He carried a bin of wooden blocks to the table and worked quietly and determinedly by himself.

Within ten minutes, a couple classmates happen by.
"What are you building?"
 "I am building a city," he explains.

"I want to build with you!"
"Me, too!"
"We need more blocks," he explains.
And the two classmates went to get another bin of blocks.

With the three working so hard together, a city begins to appear.

And many more willing hands. And exclamations.
"We are building a city!"
"We can do it!"

"This is teamwork!"
"Look at this!  My city is growing!"
"It is our city! Our city!"
"It is going to be the biggest!"
"We need some help here!"
"We need more blocks!"

All our wooden blocks are now in play.

"Let's use these!"
The wooden blocks are used up.
The children race to get another bin, the plastic blocks.

And together,
and yet,
they add details to their own individual parts of the city.

Our entire 40 minute centers' time has been spent on this incredible city.  
Ten children working together at one once-empty round table.
Nearly half my class.

I want to let this work continue.
I want to honor it by letting it stay up.

Perhaps we can get back to it later in the day?
After playground? 
After lunch?
Yes, we'll use another table at lunch...

I walk over to the table and whisper,
"This is a fantastic city.  I like the work you are doing.  In a minute, we will put on the clean up song, but I was thinking..."
As if on cue, this table of preschoolers
acts as one
and topples the city,
sending all the blocks careening down,
over the table, onto the floor,
and one declares,
"Time to put them back in the bins! Clean up!"

Wow.  I didn't anticipate that.
I didn't anticipate any part of the entire forty minutes.
It was truly magical.
And these preschoolers
simply knew

they could create their city again.